Published on April 18th, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
The Lovely Few Continues the ‘Meteor Series’ via Hearts + Plugs
Mike Mewborne, the multi-instrumentalist and songsmith behind the Columbia-based electro-pop act the Lovely Few, is fascinated by cosmic debris and the notions it inspires. Working with Charleston-based musician and indie label exec Dan McCurry (of Hearts + Plugs Records), Mewborne has a done masterful job of creating atmospheric and other-worldly soundscapes in tribute to his favorite meteor showers and celestial events on the Lovely Few’s new collection The Geminids.
Following 2012’s The Perseids and The Orionids, The Geminids is the third conceptual album in an ongoing series “devoted to devoted to various meteor showers.”
“I was at a jumping point that was important when we started working on these albums,” Mewborne says. “I asked myself, ‘What comes to mind with meteor showers?’ I thought of my childhood a lot — watching a meteor shower with my father and brother. I thought of romantic scenes in movies where there’s a falling star. I also thought about the end of the world. There’s a lot to draw from once you stop and look at it.”
From the chilly dance grooves of “Mariner” and “Mars” to the more sparse and mysterious-sounding tracks like “Gemini” and “Phaethon 2,” The Geminids is a uniquely dynamic trip, melding analog and digital sound sources. For Mewborne and his two core bandmates, wife Kate Mewborne and colleague Alan Davis, it’s far from the usual rock band experiment.
“With this album, we want to make it sound as full as possible, so we have to consider which percussion instruments or live strings or synthesized sounds work,” Mewborne says. “The good thing is that we can play on different levels and still accomplish an enjoyable show. I can play the songs on my acoustic guitar and sort of strip it down, and it comes across one way, or we can bring in as many instruments as we want, and it can accomplish something else.”
The Lovely Few’s professional and artistic relationship with McCurry and the Hearts + Plugs team started back in 2011 when the band was wrapping up the initial recording of The Perseids in Columbia. “Dan approached us about coming on board with Hearts + Plugs,” Mewborne says. “We rereleased that album and started playing back and forth between Columbia and Charleston a bit more. We wanted to put something out that was a true collaboration, so we put out The Orionids in 2012.”
The recording process for the new collection began more than a year ago when Mewborne started making trips to Charleston. He and his bandmates crashed with family in Summerville and commuted downtown to McCurry’s Apartment A facility. McCurry brought his main rig up to Mewborne’s home in Irmo (near Columbia) to mix and master the final tracks.
“The Perseids and The Orionids came from different place, geographically and metaphorically,” Mewborne adds. “We recorded The Perseids in a studio in Columbia and The Orionids over a couple of weekend at Dan’s studio in Charleston. Taking time to travel and communicate while working on The Geminids was really helpful. We really needed that extra time for editing because it was a big concept. We were trying to make a pop-sensible album out of a meteor shower. It took a lot of back and forth to consider what worked and what didn’t work. I think we’re all proud of the final outcome.”
Mewborne sings and plays guitar and keyboards with the band these days, but he started out as a pop/rock drummer several years back. He previously kept time various indie bands before focusing on composing and recording his own original material.
“I played with guys like [Carolina-based songwriters] Steven Fiore and Eric Skelton who were knockin’ it out of the park in terms of your typical love song goes,” Mewborne says. “They were writing wonderful stuff — good, sophisticated, clean songs. I think that by holding myself to that standard, I wasn’t able to get on their level. So I wanted to start fresh.”
The Lovely Few’s electronic foundation allowed Mewborne to veer far away from the usual rock band formulas and instrumentation.
“It all started with a conversation with Dan,” he says. “A few years ago, we would challenge each other to find our own voices and to keep writing, no matter what. On our first album, we felt free to experiment with sounds, instrumentation, and themes. I’ve always wanted to bring very rich acoustic elements and real-sounding things juxtaposed to very synthesized things. I think we were able to push ourselves in both direction on that with this new album.”
Mixing up with instruments and sound effects in a recording studio is one thing; recreating or reworking those ideas for an audience at a live show is another challenge altogether.
“Sometimes, your equipment stops working in the middle of a show,” Mewborne says. “When you rely on computers for a good portion of your sound, you’ve got to make sure that your rig is solid. I’ve experienced that through trial-and-error. I’m filling a lot of space with some preprogrammed stuff and then filling in the void live with some instrumentation. Early on, that felt very cheap, but I’ve learned that it’s a challenge. If you miss a cue, then the whole song is off. We have to make sure that we’re good on all our cues.”
Local fans of the Lovely Few get the freedom and openness of Mewborne’s approach — no matter if he’s rendering versions of songs from The Geminids as a solo act or with a full band. But for the bandleader, the bigger the sound the better.
The Lovely Few performed several hometown gigs earlier this spring, and they have a Charleston showcase gig with other Hearts + Plugs acts in the works for June.
Top photo by William Lide Powell.
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